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Richard Benyon MP: We need a radical reform of the failed Common Fisheries Policy

Richard Benyon Richard Benyon is Fisheries Minister at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Imagine the level of popular outrage if half the cattle or lamb reared and slaughtered in the UK were dumped along roadsides.

But this is pretty much happening in our seas with the perverse practice of discarding fish. I support the superb Fish Fight campaign run by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

However the challenge is not to just to highlight the problem but to find solutions.
One suggestion, from the Commission, is for an outright ban on discarding fish. Sounds great - so, job done? Well, as is so often the case, life is not that simple.

All the evidence of the past is that if you leave the current broken system of fisheries management in place and just use a little more stick and no carrot with fishermen, it just won't work. What does work is to use fishermen as part of the solution rather than just the problem.

What do I mean?

Look at the catch quota scheme we are developing in the North Sea. Fishermen land everything they catch and are incentivised to fish in ways that avoid catching certain species or fish below a certain size. When they hit an enhanced quota ceiling they must stop fishing. This is achieving the holy grail of fisheries management: catching less but landing more. There will be zero discards this year from vessels fishing under this scheme.

Around 50% of fish discarded in UK waters is as a result of there being no market for them and therefore of no value to skippers. Last year we started a project called ‘Fishing for the Market’. It seeks new markets for species we currently don't eat. Ask your fishmonger for dabs for example. Thousands of these delicious fish are thrown away dead every year because of our unadventurous tastes and eating habits.

The UK is now at the forefront of seeking radical reform of the failed Common Fisheries Policy. We have a window of opportunity of a few months to create a system that moves away from centralised micro-management to regional and fishery based management.

This is a time for a solid Conservative principle. I'm talking about stewardship. When fishermen are incentivised in the right way, they will effectively invest in the long term health of our seas. They need more fish to catch and they want to stop discarding. These two aspirations are mine too.


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